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Your Shopping Cart just got a whole lot Smarter, this festive season

Nivin Simon
7 minutes, 7 seconds read

The shopping season has officially returned to the Indian subcontinent. While the first phase of festivities (typically) kicks off with the onset of Navratri (sep 29) till Dussehra (oct 8), Indian retailers will have clocked above 40% of their annual sales within this ten day window alone. For consumers, ‘better deals’ take precedence over attributes like faster shipping during this season. In fact, retailers will have adjusted their pricing to strongly reflect these consumer preferences — a pair of women’s running shoes, for instance, will have a discounted price of 19% pre-diwali and upto a flat 50% discounted price on the day of. 

In a country with over 400M active online users, customer fealty during this season is even more fickle than usual. The growing number of online consumers are heralding new buying behaviors especially from tier 2 and 3 cities. According to Google Insights, 70% of Indian netizens go online during the festive season to browse products, compare prices, read reviews and look for deals. For brands & retailers, getting in front of these potential customers and clamoring for their attention is the pivotal moment of truth. 

Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart, India’s top two e-tailers, are using intelligent technologies to stave off each other’s aggressive discounting strategies. The two e-commerce giants have cumulatively created over 140,000 temporary jobs across supply chain, last-mile connectivity and customer support to handle the extra influx of trade. Daily shipments in India is expected to touch 4 million units during the ongoing festive season.

AI in e-commerce:India's e-retail market share of gross merchandise value.

Which begs the question: How are they doing this? How are they using technology to stay-on-top?

It’s no secret, the retail spend on AI is forecast to grow from $2 billion in 2018 to $7.3 billion by 2022, according to Juniper Research.
In reality, they rely on Artificial Intelligence — it is where these companies have primarily invested a huge chunk of change to enhance their business. By leveraging the right set of AI-assisted tools in their operations, they are able to retain and convert more customers. 

Artificial Intelligence and related technologies like machine learning and natural language processing has intensified over the digital buying landscape. This has forced brick & mortar stores including physical outlets with omni channel reach to a receding corner of the industry.

There’s more to the digital landscape than meets the eye. It is a space plagued with security concerns. E-commerce companies are using AI to detect and eliminate potential frauds on their platform. They’ve deployed AI models that constantly vets fraudulent accounts that have only signed up to make the most of promo codes, or bring cash out of stolen credit cards. 

Yes, aggressive pricing does work as reflected by the higher EMI adoption this year. However, cash burn through discounts is not the overhaul the industry can sustain itself on. Big Data Analytics can prescribe a more proactive approach for suggestions based on statistical association evaluation, time spent on site, cookies behavior and method of accessing site which can tell a brand the how, what and when of the customer buying cycle — in turn, increasing sales.

AI has even infiltrated physical retail, and is now helping stores maximise marketing efforts, personalise the customer experience and optimise their store inventory.

AI in retail market

Warehouses and stores, in India, are also making use of ‘Cobots (collaborative robots) to assist humans in performing tedious and repetitive shop-floor tasks. The cobots run on machine learning algorithms that have defined its capacity to perform specific tasks while also learning to get better with new data.

Ahead of this year’s festive sale, Flipkart has added 340 cobots or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to its current fleet of 110. These bots can carry anything with them, from appliances to mobile phones. 

After the first phase of the festive shopping marathon, Amazon and Flipkart have both made significant wins over the period. They will look to extend their market capture as we move into the second phase of the season (Diwali).

Interestingly, for Amazon, almost half the product sales came from lower-tier urban areas. Amazon India-owned Echo products even saw a record 70 fold increase in sales.

Flipkart receives over 90% of traffic from its android app, and has designed its app home screen personalized to each of its 120 million+ customers. They have deployed machine learning models and algorithms on various customer data points like customer location, language, gender, price, affinity to a store or brand, purchasing frequency, purchase volume, price group, etc. among others.

These data points help Flipkart make predictions even without the customer being on their platform. Using these machine learning models they are also able to predict if a customer is going to return a particular product.

This season, customers can continue to expect strides in personalization and tailored experiences. E-tailers can expect to see improvements to their order handling, and personalization efforts. Overtime, these improvements will pay dividends in the form of revenue enhancement, increased margins, and higher sales.

How can AI upscale e-commerce

AI has made smooth inroads into digital shopping aisles — with several intelligent use cases such as stock assortment, fraud reduction and self-checkout. Here is a brief compilation of adopted strategies used in retail with the potential to disrupt the future of online shopping.

Product Recommendations

Recommendation engines have become a staple of commercial AI usage. By looking at customers’ purchase histories, current activity (cart contents and page views), and other linked third-party data, e-tailers can make highly tailored suggestions. Amazon, for example, makes more than 40% of its sales via their recommendation engine which also suggests items based on what your friends have purchased recently.Demand Forecasting
E-tailers expect to know in advance how much of each product is projected to especially during peak season. AI can enhance demand predictions by minimizing overstock and out-of-stock situations. ML Algorithms can optimise what products should be made available in a particular geography. For example, Levi’s is using AI to improve size availability, and Nike is using geographical and behavioural data from its app to inform store offerings.

Personalization

AI systems can capture deep customer insights about their buying preferences and behavior using their social data, purchase history, and browsing habits. AI can fill in the gaps by looking at a user’s spending patterns and other data sources to come up with a very detailed view of the customer. This has proven to enhance the customer’s digital shopping experience with a more satisfying view of highly relevant and hyper-personalized offerings.

Shopping Assistant

An AI-powered shopping assistant is a natural extension of the chatbot, with layers of visual processing added in. For example, if a customer wants to choose an outfit for a special occasion. The AI shopping assistant could learn their tastes and help them select some garments. It could then walk them through the process of virtually trying on an outfit (virtual trial rooms). It could offer suggestions for complementary items or encourage them to buy the product, as a friend might. The shopping assistant can also suggest the complementary outfits, footwear and accessories just like a real fashion assistant/advisor would.

Swift Customer Service

Primarily dominated by chatbots over the last several years, bots can learn from the interactions between customers and human reps. Chatbots are trained using natural language processing techniques to understand jargon and ‘speech’ specific to retail. They can then use the data it harvests to create a more personable interaction. It can also quickly reduce the number of touchpoints for the customer and help address immediate queries related to pricing, product availability, returns and recommendations without the need for human intervention.

Also read – How Chatbots are changing the digital Indian?

Smarter Voice Searches

Voice-powered searches can act on a ton of customer insights and information fed into the recommendation engine from the customer’s profile. Voice-activated shopping, is a natural extension of human behavior — allowing consumers to take control of the omnichannel experience to learn more about the product, gather quick product information, compare prices etc. Orders placed via Alexa have increased three times more than the year-ago festive shopping season.

Product identification & visual search

esearch has shown customers who gravitate towards voice-powered searches, equally embrace visual searches. For example, an AI-powered matching algorithm could look at the images of a customer’s favorite products (shirts, sneakers etc.) and suggest similar ones based on attributes like pattern, fit, color, style etc. The AI program can also identify products kept in cart and website pages from browsing based on the customers’ past shopping data and other data from various sources, making the suggestions more accurate with time.

To know more about how Artificial Intelligence can help increase your persona capture and retention, reach out to us on hello@mantralabsglobal.com.

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Across the Insurance ecosystem, a special fraction within the industry is noteworthy for its adoption of new technologies ahead of others. However slow but sure, uberization of insurance has conventionally demonstrated a greater inclination towards digitization. Insurers now more than ever, need big data-driven insights to assess risk, reduce claims, and create value for their customers. 

92% of the C-Level Executives are increasing their pace of investment in big data and AI.

NewVantage Partners Executive Survey 2019 

Artificial Intelligence has brought about revolutionary benefits in the Insurance industry.

AI enriched solutions can remove the ceiling caps on collaboration, removes manual dependencies and report errors.

However, organizations today are facing a lot of challenges in reaping the actual benefits of AI.

5 Challenges for AI implementation for Insurers

5 AI Implementation Challenges in Insurance

Lack of Quality training data

AI can improve productivity and help in decision making through training datasets. According to the survey of the Dataconomy, nearly 81% of 225 data scientists found the process of AI training more difficult than expected even with the data they had. Around 76% were struggling to label and interpret the training data.

Clean vision, Process, and Support from Executive Leadership

AI is not a one time process. Maximum benefits can be reaped out of AI through clear vision, dedicated time, patience and guided leadership from industry experts and AI thought leaders.

Data in-silos

Organizational silos are ill-advised and are proven constrictive barriers to operational productivity & efficiency. Most businesses that have data kept in silos face challenges in collaboration, execution, and measurement of their bigger picture goals. 

Technology & Vendor selection

AI has grown sharp enough to penetrate through the organizations. As AI success stories are becoming numerous investment in AI is also getting higher. However big the hype is, does AI implementation suits your business process or not – is the biggest question. The insurtech industries have continued its growth trajectory in 2019; reaching a funding of $6B. With the help of these insurtech service firms, Insurance organizations have made progress, tackling the age-old insurance ills with AI-powered innovations.

People, Expertise and Technical competency

‘Skills and talent’ in the field of AI is the main barrier for AI transformation in their business.

Still playing catch-up to the US, China, and Japan — India has doubled its AI  workforce over the past few years to nearly 72,000 skilled professionals in 2019. 

Are you facing challenges with your Insurance process but have no idea where the disconnect is? Is your Insurance business process ripe for AI in the year 2020?

What is the right approach?

Join our Webinar — AI for Data-driven Insurers: Challenges, Opportunities & the Way Forward hosted by our CEO, Parag Sharma as he addresses Insurance business leaders on the 13th of February, 2020.

Register for the live webinar by Parag Sharma (AI Thought Leader & CEO Mantra Labs). 

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Ratemaking, or insurance pricing, is the process of fixing the rates or premiums that insurers charge for their policies. In insurance parlance, a unit of insurance represents a certain monetary value of coverage. Insurance companies usually base these on risk factors such as gender, age, etc. The Rate is simply the price per ‘unit of insurance’ for each unit exposed to liability. 

Typically, a unit of insurance (both in life and non-life) is equal to $1,000 worth of liability coverage. By that token, for 200 units of insurance purchased the liability coverage is $200,000. This value is the insurance ‘premium’. (This example is only to demonstrate the logic behind units of exposure, and is not an exact method for calculating premium value)

The cost of providing insurance coverage is actually unknown, which is why insurance rates are based on the predictions of future risk.  

Actuaries work wherever risk is present

Actuarial skills help measure the probability and risk of future events by understanding the past. They accomplish this by using probability theory, statistical analysis, and financial mathematics to predict future financial scenarios. 

Insurers rely on them, among other reasons, to determine the ‘gross premium’ value to collect from the customer that includes the premium amount (described earlier), a charge for covering losses and expenses (a fixture of any business) and a small margin of profit (to stay competitive). But insurers are also subject to regulations that limit how much they can actually charge customers. Being highly skilled in maths and statistics the actuary’s role is to determine the lowest possible premium that satisfies both the business and regulatory objectives.

Risk-Uncertainty Continuum

Source: Sam Gutterman, IAA Risk Book

Actuaries are essentially experts at managing risk, and owing to the fact that there are fewer actuaries in the World than most other professions — they are highly in demand. They lend their expertise to insurance, reinsurance, actuarial consultancies, investment, banking, regulatory bodies, rating agencies and government agencies. They are often attributed to the middle office, although it is not uncommon to find active roles in both the ‘front and middle’ office. 

Recently, they have also found greater roles in fast growing Internet startups and Big-Tech companies that are entering the insurance space. Take Gus Fuldner for instance, head of insurance at Uber and a highly sought after risk expert, who has a four-member actuarial team that is helping the company address new risks that are shaping their digital agenda. In fact, Uber believes in using actuaries with data science and predictive modelling skills to identify solutions for location tracking, driver monitoring, safety features, price determination, selfie-test for drivers to discourage account sharing, etc., among others.

Also read – Are Predictive Journeys moving beyond the hype?

Within the General Actuarial practice of Insurance there are 3 main disciplines — Pricing, Reserving and Capital. Pricing is prospective in nature, and it requires using statistical modelling to predict certain outcomes such as how much claims the insurer will have to pay. Reserving is perhaps more retrospective in nature, and involves applying statistical techniques for identifying how much money should be set aside for certain liabilities like claims. Capital actuaries, on the other hand, assess the valuation, solvency and future capital requirements of the insurance business.

New Product Development in Insurance

Insurance companies often respond to a growing market need or a potential technological disruptor when deciding new products/ tweaking old ones. They may be trying to address a certain business problem or planning new revenue streams for the organization. Typically, new products are built with the customer in mind. The more ‘benefit-rich’ it is, the easier it is to push on to the customer.

Normally, a group of business owners will first identify a broader business objective, let’s say — providing fire insurance protection for sub-urban, residential homeowners in North California. This may be a class of products that the insurer wants to open. In order to create this new product, they may want to study the market more carefully to understand what the risks involved are; if the product is beneficial to the target demographic, is profitable to the insurer, what is the expected value of claims, what insurance premium to collect, etc.

There are many forces external to the insurance company — economic trends, the agendas of independent agents, the activities of competitors, and the expectations and price sensitivity of the insurance market — which directly affect the premium volume and profitability of the product.

Dynamic Factors Influencing New Product Development in Insurance

Source: Deloitte Insights

To determine insurance rate levels and equitable rating plans, ratemaking becomes essential. Statistical & forecasting models are created to analyze historical premiums, claims, demographic changes, property valuations, zonal structuring, and regulatory forces. Generalized linear models, clustering, classification, and regression trees are some examples of modeling techniques used to study high volumes of past data. 

Based on these models, an actuary can predict loss ratios on a sample population that represents the insurer’s target audience. With this information, cash flows can be projected on the product. The insurance rate can also be calculated that will cover all future loss costs, contingency loads, and profits required to sustain an insurance product. Ultimately, the actuary will try to build a high level of confidence in the likelihood of a loss occurring. 

This blog is a two-part series on new product development in insurance. In the next part, we will take a more focused view of the product development actuary’s role in creating new insurance products.

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